Shoes, cities, the judiciary. It’s impressive the wide range of name-place-animal-things which Akshay Kumar-starrer The State vs Jolly LLB 2 managed to offend just through its trailer.
First, shoe company Bata was offended. The subtitle of the sentence, Varna kya….Bata ka joota pehan kar, tuchhi si terricot ki shirt pehan kar, sala hum se zabaan lada rahe hain, replaced Bata with “cheap shoes”. This upset the company greatly and they filed a lawsuit against the producer. The lawsuit starts with Bata’s counsel specifying that their client has “annual sales to the tune of Rs2,300 crore” and sell shoes which cost “upto Rs9,000”. Ergo, they are not cheap. Only easily offended and humourless – and seem to have an awful lot of time on hand.
Then all dialogues taking digs at Lucknow were asked to be removed. Lucknow was replaced by the word “local” in the following lines - “Lucknow kachahari mein koi cheez time pe hui hai kya?”, “Baahar Lucknow ke lawyer mujhe kya bulaate hain”. Lucknow was also replaced with “Awadh” in the dialogue, “Yeh Delhi nahin Lucknow hai.” Which made no sense when you watched the film and I was offended on Awadh’s behalf. After all, why is Awadh allowed to be insulted and not Lucknow?
And till 8th February, the film was caught up in a hearing at the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court thanks to Nanded-based advocate Ajaykumar Waghmare filing a petition stating that the film is “nothing but an attempt to portray the Indian Legal Profession and Judicial System as a laughing stock to the society at large”. And since our judiciary has such few cases to hear, a 3-member panel comprising two senior lawyers from Aurangabad and a doctor (!) sat on the case and ordered the deletion of four scenes—a scene where a scared judge is hiding behind the chair, another where a shoe is hurled, a scene with objectionable signalling and dialogues in an argument scene.
Also Read | Film Review: Jolly LLB 2
Hail our freedom of expression, when the people who are supposed to uphold the said freedom are the very ones stymieing it.
As a result of all the brouhaha, I donned my Easily Offended cap and sat down to see just how offensive the film was. And I can only be thankful that the easily offended got to see just the trailer and not the entire film. The esteemed advocate, Waghmare, would have had an apoplectic fit. Although, the judiciary comes off far more favourably than the police does in the film.
Akshay Kumar plays Jagdishwar Mishra a.k.a. Jolly, one of India’s many struggling lawyers in small-town India. That the removal of Lucknow’s mention from certain scenes makes no sense is obvious, as the entire film is shot in Lucknow, has Lucknow’s name emblazoned on buildings and billboards and so on. Jolly works for one of Lucknow’s most well-known advocates, Rizvi and loses his job because of a horrendous incident, which I’d rather not give away. Jolly finally ends up fighting a case to prove that a man was wrongly killed in what we fondly call an encounter killing. The case is fought by him against a much-lauded encounter cop, who hires Annu Kapoor as his shark of a lawyer. In light of the recent news that the Bhopal encounter killings of October 2016, have simply been relegated to the annals of news reports, the film couldn’t have released at a better time.
There is much to love in this film and it’s heartening to see a star of Akshay Kumar’s calibre take on such a role in such a small-budget film. There is a realism to the film which we never see in commercial cinema. Yes, there are two songs and you wish they were done away with but that’s a hazard of most Hindi films. But it’s not as ludicrous as seeing Raees, a smuggler, suddenly romping in a luxury tent on a sand dune with his coiffed wife. Of course, there is a stretch of imagination when it is claimed that a Bengali man could be an encounter cop. But hey, let’s show Bengali men as capable of at least this level of sneaky violence.
The film raises many questions – especially the most idiotic one, would you rather have a terrorist in your midst or an encounter cop who gets rid of terrorists and occasionally kills an innocent bystander? Because hey, mistakes happen to the best of us. Multiple issues are raised – and effectively – from the corruption in the police system, to the collusion of lawyers with guilty clients and corrupt policemen and terrorists, how celebrity lawyers function, to how unarmed Kashmiris looking for solace in a ravaged state are silenced by the gun-toting army, to how easy it is to lock up a man in the name of militancy in a Kashmiri jail. Saurabh Shukla plays the judge whose court the case is heard in, and does a wonderful job as the harried, overworked judge whose only moment of joy is when he’s practising an Alia Bhatt-dance for his daughter’s wedding.
This is also the first commercial Hindi film in recent history which has shown a court in small-town India and frankly, many parts of metropolitan India, look as it does in real life – hot, windowless, crowded, dusty, unswept, steel chairs, piles of files, poor lighting. The last I saw a courtroom looking this real, was in Court – which was as far from commercial cinema as Salman Khan is from acting. Huma Qureishi plays Kumar’s wife, and isn’t just a pretty face, playing both his bodyguard to his Watson while investigating the case. There’s also a much-needed spot of emancipation, where Kumar is shown cooking food for his wife and son and also sneaking a bottle of whiskey into his house for Qureishi, who quite likes her tipple with her husband. There’s an easy equitable balance in their relationship, which maybe a small step for most people, but is a giant step for a Hindi film.
Yes, there’s a bit of a heartfelt speech towards the end, but what’s a courtroom drama without a speech or two? This is an extremely brave film for a director such Subhash Kapoor, who is still finding his foothold in Bollywood, to make. After a long time a film has held up a mirror to our state machinery – much like Haider did as well. But they are so few and far between, that we should all stand up for Jolly LLB – even if we don’t for the national anthem in the cinema hall. Go watch it. Support brave cinema and I never thought I’d write this – but more power to Akshay Kumar for taking on this role.
Note: The status of Bata’s case
The court has asked the relevant people involved with Jolly LLB 2– Fox Studios, Akshay Kumar, Annu Kapoor, the producers, etc.—to appear before the Ld. ACMM Court, Saket on 22 February 2017.
Fox Studios, makers of Jolly LLB 2, have shared a statement with the court that they have taken a decision to discontinue the impugned trailer with immediate effect and shall not include the impugned scene in the film. They also assured the court that they shall issue immediate instructions for pulling down the impugned trailer from the internet.